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Bleed From Within’s Craig ‘Goonzi’ Gowans and Steven Jones talk sick riffs, fierce grooves, and how Neural DSP revolutionized their sound

Bleed From Within
Steven Jones [left] and Craig ‘Goonzi’ Gowans getting "heavy and ridiculous" onstage (Image credit: Tom JD Armstrong)

Bleed From Within may very well have gone and just written the album of their career. The Scottish metal quintet have always been capable of delivering thunderous riffs that twist and turn in unexpected ways, though on sixth album Shrine it feels they’ve finally harnessed the full potential of power and groove. 

For founding axeman Craig ‘Goonzi’ Gowans and co-guitarist Steven Jones, the last year or so has been a period of enhanced creative focus and fine-tuning the very elements that got the group noticed early on. 

As a result, this latest opus – mixed by Adam ‘Nolly’ Getgood and Sebastian Sendon – oozes the kind of confidence you notice when a band are at the very top of their game…

“I guess it is our pandemic album, because we used the extra time wisely,” begins Goonzi, speaking to Guitar World as the group prepare for a busy festival season. “Not playing shows sucked, though! Ironically, 2020 was the best year for our band. We were stuck at home but also having the biggest response to our music. 

“We also signed with Nuclear Blast and had loads of other cool stuff that came from the back of [last album] Fracture, even though it had been a year since we’d played any shows. It’s pretty weird, the best year for this band is the one where we played the least amount of shows!”

“Yeah, the not playing part really sucked,” agrees Steven, who joined in 2017 just before fourth album Era. “Though I have to say, with 2019 being our busiest year ever, we were all showed-out anyway! 

“It’s a shame Fracture didn’t get the tour support it should have, but it’s still our biggest album to date. It raised our profile considerably and way more people know about us, even if we didn’t get out there and play it.”

Thankfully, it looks like you’ll be touring this new album quite heavily. The opening track, I Am Damnation, has some really interesting Dimebag-style pre-bends that add a rubbery sort of feel to the heaviness...

Goonzi: “Yeah! On Fracture, there’s a song called Pathfinder where the middle eight had an octave pedal running at almost 100 per cent and it’s a sound we all ended up really loving. 

“We all wanted to take that kind of idea to the next level and that’s exactly what I Am Damnation is – bringing that kind of idea to the forefront of a song and making it the main riff so it’s right in people’s faces.

There’s a run in the middle of Vogg’s guest solo that almost sounds Mozart-esque!

Steven Jones

“It clearly worked for us so we thought let’s go with it and make it our own. And so we ended up using octave parts on a bunch of songs across the whole album.”

Steven: “That main riff in I Am Damnation ends up being almost half the song! While on Pathfinder it was just a little moment that we had to make things super heavy, grubby and minging. And yeah, like Goonzi says, we knew it worked really well on that track so we made it a big part of the new song.”

We have to say, the solo in Sovereign is the shreddiest this band have ever sounded, with a fiery mix of alternate picking, diminished runs and Zakk Wylde-esque stretched pentatonics...

Goonzi: “I hate to burst your bubble, but neither of us played that solo (laughs)! It was actually Vogg from Decapitated and Machine Head, it’s his guest solo! 

“To me, he’s the king of groove metal riffs. I’m an even bigger fan of the newer Decapitated stuff than I am the old stuff, which might sound like a crazy thing to say in the metal industry. I just love his groove and his tone. 

Bleed From Within

(Image credit: Tom JD Armstrong)

“Everyone says his tone is in the fingers – no matter what you buy and how much you buy, you will never do it because it’s just the way he plays. I noticed he just released a new signature head, which is really exciting. I’ll definitely be trying that out, though I already know that only Vogg can ever sound like Vogg. 

“I had the pleasure of going to Colombia with Decapitated when I was filming for them. We got to spend time over there and they were all really cool. That’s how he ended up playing on the album.”

Steven: “There’s a run in the middle of his solo that almost sounds Mozart-esque! He’s an incredible player.”

And that solo goes straight into what feels like one of the heaviest riffs on the album...

Steven: “I just posted a little screenshot of me listening to that song when I first got the Dropbox link – and it’s from that exact moment you’re talking about, where the riff comes in. It’s a Goonzi riff, so he can explain what he’s doing…”

Goonzi: “It’s a riff that came out of the other riffs in the song. There are some fills where I’m playing two strings on the fourth fret and the third string on the fifth fret, and I ended up just playing around with that. 

“I love it when you riffs build up on their own, when there are no other instruments at first and then everyone comes in. Moments like that are built for live crowds!”

Steven Jones from Bleed From Within

(Image credit: Tom JD Armstrong)

Similarly, Levitate also features its heaviest riff near the end – this one mixing squeals with open strings and pinched harmonics in ways Gojira have done over the years...

Goonzi: “That’s a big compliment and really nice to hear. You’re saying all the right names like Pantera and Gojira (laughs)! These are all my favorite bands and exactly the ones who have inspired me most when it comes to guitar. 

The aim was to sound crazy and make our drummer’s life as difficult as possible

Craig 'Goonzi' Gowans

“Most of Levitate is quite melodic and relies on that side of things, so at the end we wanted to go as heavy and ridiculous as we can. The aim was to sound crazy and make our drummer’s life as difficult as possible.

“It was one of the last things we wrote for the album, so Ali [Richardson, drums] had to learn it right before we went into the studio. It’s difficult to play on guitar too!”

What’s the secret to riffing that fast? Were there any exercises that helped you hone in on that technique specifically?

Goonzi: “My right hand never felt like my strong point until I started playing live guitar in Steven’s other band, From Sorrow To Serenity, which he writes all the music for. It’s all really down-picky and right-hand based. 

“I really had to work on that and sit there building power in that hand. Honestly, a lot of it came from learning his songs! I use a bit of wrist and arm! For the fast tremolo stuff I change m

Willie Adler from Lamb Of God has the craziest-looking right hand I’ve ever seen! It doesn’t look like he can be comfortable at all, and yet he still fucking rips!

Steven Jones

Steven: “Nice! I never knew that. Willie Adler from Lamb Of God has the craziest-looking right hand I’ve ever seen! It doesn’t look like he can be comfortable at all, and yet he still fucking rips! 

“Talking about picking, that Levitate riff you mentioned, is probably the craziest thing in terms of techniques. There’s fast alternate, downpicking, pinches and other things, so we had to make our picking hands do it all in about 30 seconds. It was really weird to play at first!” 

Craig 'Goonzi' Gowans

(Image credit: Tom JD Armstrong)

This album has a really interesting mix of influences and techniques – it’s not groove metal, tech metal or deathcore, and yet it’s somehow all of those things. Flesh And Stone, on the other hand, sounds more like black metal…

Goonzi: “That’s one of Steven’s babies!”

Steven: “It’s a funny one, that song came out of conversations about having a fast song. I love Devin Townsend and wanted to create something a bit more soundscape with a lot of atmosphere. Somehow my brain decided we should try to put those kinds of sounds together with loads of blastbeats. 

“The intro riff is this simple harmonic thing that’s a few notes – it’s more of a sound than a riff, but the drums are blasting the whole time. There are eight or nine guitar layers, some of them swirling from the left to the right and back again. I was using harmonics, not natural harmonics… what’s the other one? Unnatural (laughs)?!”

Ah yes, artificial harmonics...

Steven: “Yeah! The guitars are pretty easy and just there for layers of heaviness. The verses get kind of mid-2000 metalcore with the fast thrash drumbeat. The outro is quite Dimmu Borgir-ish, with the strings following the guitar. 

“We decided to be weird and fun on this song – it was our curveball for the album. Funnily enough, I’m not much of a black metal fan! I don’t really listen to it much but that made it even more fun to approach as a guitar player.”

Goonzi: “I’ve always wanted a song that had clean singing over a blastbeat ever since I heard The Lotus Eater by Opeth. We’re playing some festival shows with them this summer… I’ll have to show them my tattoo (laughs).”

The tones on this album are absolutely monstrous. How exactly did you get them?

Goonzi: “It’s all plug-ins, Neural DSP stuff. I think we used the Fortin NTS plug-in with the GGD Cali cabs, which is a newer one that Nolly made. It’s great that he’s made all these plug-ins as he’s the one who mixed the album, so he knows those things inside out. 

“We tracked the entire album with my six-string Carillion Polaris with Bare Knuckle Ragnaroks. There was also a seven-string with the same pickups. It was pretty simple, to be honest – we tracked the DIs, sent them to Nolly and he did all the re-amping.”

Steven Jones from Bleed From Within

(Image credit: Tom JD Armstrong)

Steven: “Goonzi uses Carillion and I use Caparison. We did a tone shoot-out and sent four or five different recorded guitars to Nolly. He picked his favorite and it turned out to be Goonzi’s guitar. 

“We used a Radial J48 going into an interface and that was it, no pedals or anything else. Even the octave effect came from one built into Logic, or at least on Fracture, he might have possibly used the octaver on the Gojira plug-in this time... but it was all software.”

It’s incredible how close digital solutions to analog tones are getting. The line has never been more blurry...

Goonzi: “Those Neural plug-ins have everything you could possibly need. And even live, you really don’t need a massive pedalboard anymore. We use the Quad Cortex, which has MIDI switching so we don’t need anything under our feet. 

The tone from the Quad Cortex is better than anything I’ve ever tried

Craig 'Goonzi' Gowans

“It’s all programmed in and there’s less stuff to carry about! I think it’s the best software thing I’ve ever tried. We used to have Kempers and a Helix, but ever since we started using in-ears, it’s like our tones have been more under the microscope. You can hear all the nuances and if you’re playing badly or the tone isn’t quite right, it’s really noticeable. 

“The tone from the Quad Cortex is better than anything I’ve ever tried. I have to admit I prefer playing with a cab, it definitely feels better. But when you’re flying around it’s way easier to carry this little thing that’s smaller than a laptop. 

“You don’t need to worry about replacing the tubes or worry about it blowing up mid-set. The MIDI switching is a big thing too; you can concentrate on the performance and not worry about what pedal to hit. Maybe some people see that as cheating... but for us it works!”

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Amit has been writing for titles like Total GuitarMusicRadar and Guitar World for over a decade and counts Richie Kotzen, Guthrie Govan and Jeff Beck among his primary influences. He's interviewed everyone from Ozzy Osbourne and Lemmy to Slash and Jimmy Page, and once even traded solos with a member of Slayer on a track released internationally. As a session guitarist, he's played alongside members of Judas Priest and Uriah Heep in London ensemble Metalworks, as well as handling lead guitars for legends like Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols, The Faces) and Stu Hamm (Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, G3).